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Sunita chosen 'Person of the Week'

After the landing, 41-year-old Sunita was chosen 'Person of the Week' by the ABC Television Network of USA.

world Updated: Jun 23, 2007 14:21 IST

Hours after she returned to Earth onboard shuttle Atlantis after a record 195-day stay in space, Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams was chosen 'Person of the Week' by a leading US television network.

The shuttle touched down safely at the Edwards Air Force Base in California on Friday after poor weather at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral forced mission managers to skip three landing attempts in California.

"Welcome back and congratulations on a great mission," NASA mission control said to Sunita and six other members of the Atlantis crew soon after the shuttle landed.

After the landing, 41-year-old Sunita was chosen 'Person of the Week' by the ABC Television Network.

In December, the network noted, she had her long hair cut so she could donate her locks to help those who have lost their hair while fighting an illness.

Long hair is not very practical in space anyway, where she also set the world record for a female astronaut on spacewalks, totalling 29 hours and 17 minutes, ABC said while announcing its 'Person of Week.'

Sunita proved that she could not only walk in space but run also, ABC said. For, when her sister Dina Pandya ran the Boston Marathon April 16, Sunita ran her own marathon in space using a treadmill suspended by gyroscopes to minimise any impact of pounding feet on the space station.

"I was thinking about her. If she's going through this, I can do it," Dina Pandya said.

Despite her success in space, Sunita said she did not immediately get her dream job in flight.

"I tell little girls about the story. I started flight school when 'Top Gun' (a Tom Cruise movie) came out, so of course everybody wanted to fly jets," she told ABC News earlier this week. "That was the cool thing to do, and I put that down as my first choice but got helicopters."

But she said in the end it worked out. "You just sort of take what you get," she said. "Maybe you don't get the first thing that you want.

If you are good at what you do and you try hard, some things sort of fall into place."

After flying helicopters for the Navy during the first Gulf War, Commander Sunita Williams was selected to train as an astronaut.

As the Atlantis finished its 14-day trip, Sunita had an international cheering squad awaiting her safe return.

Sunita, who has a Slovenian mother and an Indian father, had hundreds of people praying in India for her safe return, the network noted. "In my hometown, for seven days everyone is praying," her father Deepak Pandya said.

Soon after the touchdown of the shuttle, a beaming Pandya said in Houston "I will not call her Miss Universe. I will call her India's daughter."

He said the entire family would be visiting India as soon as possible after NASA permits to travel.

Sunita crossed the milestone for longest uninterrupted stay by a woman in space on Saturday last surpassing the 188-day, four-hour mark set by US astronaut Shannon Lucid in 1996 on a mission to the Russian Mir space station.

Sunita had set off from Cape Canaveral on December nine last year on shuttle Discovery for what was to become the longest space journey by a woman.

During her stay in the space station, she worked with experiments across a wide variety of fields, including human life sciences, physical sciences and Earth observation as well as education and technology demonstrations.

Some of these experiments give scientists critical insight into the effects of weightlessness on human bodies while others show ways to prevent effects already known like muscle and bone loss.

In addition to rigorous exercise, Sunita collected and stored her blood while in space to add to an ongoing study on nutrition, another key element of living in space for long stretches of time.

The results of this study may impact nutritional requirements and food systems developed for future ventures in space.

First Published: Jun 23, 2007 12:21 IST